Don’t Weigh Me Down

A few years ago I wrote about my oxen. Those beautiful beasts that plod ever onward, driving me forward into the frontier of my life.

There’s my damn oxen again, still not giving a damn that I want to keep moving forward. Not pictured: all the stuff inside that wagon that’s tiring out the poor dears.

My tenacity isn’t this relentless steam engine, sloughing off problems like a cowcatcher through the thickest snow. It’s more like an ox-wagon trudging slowly into unknown territory. Sometimes those damned oxen are lazy and won’t be made to go faster by whip or insult. Sometimes they damn near stop altogether. But eventually they get going again. Eventually they pick up the pace. Eventually things get back into a groove. – International Women’s Day 2016

In the nearly two years since I wrote those words, I have tenaciously moved forward. I have written a business plan, improved my income, bought a car, and moved into my own apartment again, among the myriad of smaller, tinier little gains that I can’t even put into words. In that time I’ve also shed a lot of possessions. Books, furniture, appliances, clothing, and countless pairs of shoes. Items still pop into my head randomly from time to time – where the hell did that thing go? Didn’t I pack that away? What ever became of …

What I’ve come to realize is that all of that was just extra weight, slowing my oxen down. No wonder we get stuck in the mud so often – we’re too heavy! So yes, this is the year of simpler living because I finally recognize that some of this stuff that I’ve been dragging through the mud with me is unnecessarily weighing me down. I’ve been holding onto it, letting it take up too much of my much-needed space – space that can be better filled with new ideas, dreams, memories, and hey, yeah, maybe some souvenirs along the way. I’m a sucker for a nice keychain.

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2017 in Books

Another year, another collection of books.

I missed putting together my 2016 year in books so here’s a quick round up courtesy of my Goodreads account:

  1. I read a lot of Deadpool comics.
  2. I read more women writers.
  3. I read two books of poetry (Czeslaw Milowsz and Leonard Cohen)
  4. I discovered a new (to me) mystery writer and series: Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce.
  5. I reread part of the Harry Potter series.
  6. In total I read 61 books, flying past my goal of 50. I credit the comics for a large part of that.

My goals were:

  • I would like to read more female writers. (24/61)
  • I’d also like to read more poetry. Poetry is like cake. It has to be savored. (Mmm, I guess I’m not very partial to cake? I read two books of poetry.)
  • I’d like to continue mining the classics, such as Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens. (Henry James, Robertson Davies, L.M. Montgomery, William Faulkner, Edith Wharton, Simone de Beauvoir, and Virginia Woolf all graced my 2016 shelves, so yes, I did that.)
  • I’d like to read more musical biographies/autobiographies. (3 – Patti Smith, Carole King, and Amanda Palmer.)
  • I’d like to read 50 books, surpassing my 44 of this year. (61/50!)

Since I did not have any new goals for 2017, I’m going to take the same lens I used for 2016 to review who and what I read in 2017.

  • I read 40/50 books in 2017. Less comics.
  • 6/40 I did not finish. Some I intend to return to because I own them.
  • 17/40 were written by women.
  • 24/40 were fiction.
  • 2 were classics.
  • 7 were memoirs or autobiographies, but zero were musical.
  • 0 poetry.

Most Notable

Although the memoirs I read were not musical, they were all fascinating in their own right. The one I’ve recommended most of all has been Hillary Rodham Clinton’s What Happened, which was written in a plain, beautiful language that points a lot of fingers and doesn’t fail to provide context to the craziest American election campaign ever.

I learned that if I’m going to review a book on the Internet, take the time to get the writer’s name right. Worst person’s name to mess up? Scaachi Koul, who’s One Day We’ll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, was awesome. To be fair, I’m not the only one who has messed up her name. She’s even written about it on Buzzfeed.

I was loaned a copy of The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk and I zipped through those 600+ pages of that post-apocalyptic utopian egrarian matriarchal universe and then wished it really did exist. Except for the part where there’s still societies that want to take all of that away.

Russell Brand’s Revolution is a great read, but he spoke to exactly one female expert. His entire thesis is based on the ideas of male thinkers and I think there’s a serious flaw in that. I like the idea that revolution can come from love, but how can you conceive of that idea and then completely ignore an entire section of humanity that bases almost all of their life choices on love? I mean, hello!

Finally, I think this thought that I tweeted out a few days ago sums up my experience of 2017 best:

To that end, I’m making a few new challenges for 2018.

2018 Reading Goals

  1. Read 50 books.
  2. Only women.
  3. Half pre-2000, half-post.
  4. Review them on the Punnery.

We’ll see how well this goes! Happy 2018, everyone! Wishing you all happiness, health, success, and joy, plus some time to read 🙂

Previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012

Rules for My Yearlong Shopping Ban

Clara_Peeters_-_Still_Life_with_Cheeses,_Almonds_and_Pretzels

Based on Cait Flanders’ shopping ban, I’ve decided that I’m going to commit to a yearlong shopping ban in 2018. The reason I want to do this is because I have some pretty big goals in 2018.

2018: The Year of Simpler Living

  1. Pay down my debt
  2. Complete a yearlong shopping ban.
  3. Improve my income by 25%.
  4. Track my income and expenses for the year.
  5. Experience all the fun and FREE things one can do in Hamilton.

I’m going to base most of my shopping ban rules on Cait’s rules because they’re pretty simple and – I’m hoping – easy to follow.

What I’m allowed to shop for:

  1. Basic groceries (cutting down on the fancy cheeses!)
  2. Personal hygeine products (shampoo, conditioner, tampons, etc.)
  3. Any minimal makeup I regularly use (only after the previous makeup has been used up)
  4. Cleaning products
  5. Supplies for gifts (I love to knit and crochet, so guess what you’re all getting for your birthdays and Christmas in 2018?)
  6. Clothing that needs replacing.
  7. Business expenses (but nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary.)

What I’m not allowed to shop for:

  1. Concert tickets (This one’s going to be hard, but there are a ton of free shows in Hamilton. We’re a music city!)
  2. No fancy cheeses!
  3. Extraneous makeup, personal products, clothing, or shoes (nail polishes, lipsticks, lotions, etc. I got plenty of clothes AND lotions!)
  4. Books, magazines, notebooks, cards (This year I’m going to shop my bookshelf, then donate the books. I also have enough notebooks to last me the year and then some. I can also make my own cards because I have cardstock that can easily be turned into cards.)
  5. Household decor (My new place is already filled to the brim with stuff that I need to find new homes for anyway.)
  6. Electronics and appliances (again – no room for them! And I’ve found that I’m actually getting by just fine without them anyway.)

I’m also going to do my best to use services like Bunz Trading Zone Hamilton and Buds Tradiing Zone Hamilton on Facebook to trade for things. That way I can find new homes for my possessions, creating more space, and I will be able to save some money as well.

Featured Image: Clara Peeters – Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds and Pretzels, 1685 (Wikipedia)

2018 Goals: The Year of Simpler Living

Recently while having a coffee at the Mulberry Coffeehouse with my sister, Holdlifestill Photography, I was worrying over the fact that I won’t be able to afford my life.

Can anyone relate?

I’ve just moved out on my own again after living with my mother for the last two years (yay!). While I love my little bachelorette, I’m concerned that running my own business, with its ups and downs, can lead to some stressful times trying to pay all my bills.

Holdlifestill suggested that I look up Cait Flander’s yearlong shopping ban for inspiration. Holy moly, the woman’s a powerhouse saver!

I’ve already had this tingly feeling (don’t worry – it’s not contagious!) that 2018’s going to be a good year. Yeah, we can talk about how the whole world is a garbage fire, but I can’t really look at that, you know? You can’t save the world if you can’t save yourself first. I’ve been told that by several people and I honestly, truly, and overwhelmingly believe it.

And besides that, I’ve had some success in helping myself this year. After two years of living at home with my mom recovering from a major episode of depression and the implosion of a pretty bad relationship, things are already starting to look up for me. This past summer I purchased a car, affectionately named Joni. I still have monthly payments on her, but I’m working towards paying that off each month. And this new home is a cherry on top.

But nothing that’s worth doing comes easy, right?

These are all great things, but they are not without their stresses. I have to be really careful with my money so that I can pay down my debts and live a good life in my new home.

My goals for 2018: The Year of Simpler Living

  1. Pay down my debt
  2. Complete a yearlong shopping ban.
  3. Improve my income by 25%.
  4. Track my income and expenses for the year.
  5. Experience all the fun and FREE things one can do in Hamilton.

Recently Hamilton Small Fries added me to their list of Hamilton blogs, under “lifestyle blogger”. I’m so pleased to be a part of this group of fearless writers based in our Ambitious City, but it got me thinking – what kind of a lifestyle blogger do I want to be? Mostly I’ve been writing through my mental health issues, but I also want to write about fun things. A yearlong shopping ban is also going to mean curbing some of my favourite things – mainly eating out and going to concerts. Bummer. BUT that doesn’t mean that I can’t have fun. In fact, given that I’m on a constrained budget, I should be doing as much as I can to have fun while experiencing all of the amazing free events that exist in Hamilton, so on top of all those big and important goals for 2018, I want to include having some fun as well AND showcasing that through the blog.

How about you? Have you set any goals for 2018 yet?

Photo Credit: CDC photo

Me, too

“For so long, women have been confessing to crimes men have committed and being punished accordingly.” – Laurie Penny, The Unforgiving Minute

This #metoo business has been heavy. So very heavy. Carrying the weight for so long, one has to wonder if you feel it any more. I can tell you that I do, in my face, my back, my arms, my thighs, my toes. I carry it in every fibre of my being because it’s imprinted on me indelibly.

Yes, me, too. I’ve documented in the past a long-term relationship that was built on emotional manipulation. I could also tell you about the first long-term boyfriend who wanted to have his cake and eat it, too. He called it bisexuality, but when it came right down to it, he just wanted to have sex with someone else. I let it happen because I reasoned – at nineteen years old – well, I can’t give him everything. I left after the infidelity, though, three weeks after we had moved in together.

But what actually weighs on me the most? Is it those emotionally scarring long-term partnerships that preyed on my open heart and desire for love?

No, it was something more insidious. It happened when I was seventeen years old.

My parents worked for a synagogue in Hamilton, one of only three in the city. My father was the building maintenance worker, and my mother cleaned and cooked. Her cooking became so well-known that a beautiful catering business grew from that seed. I spent nearly every Saturday in the kitchen, running tuna salad, bagels, and gefilte fish into the ballroom.

I loved being the little churchmouse in the synagogue. No one paid attention to me, except one day.

One day the Cantor said more than hello.

He actually talked to me. He asked me questions. He asked me to sing for him and I sang an aria from Phanton of the Opera, the first soundtrack I ever commited to heart, and I nailed the high note. He was impressed and with that, as he said goodbye, he gave me my first kiss in the ballroom.

I already had a crush on him, so it was easy for a man eleven years older to read the signs, wearing his nice suits and driving his fancy cars. The first I could remember was an Acura, the second an Inifiniti. He gave me his phone number and I called him a couple times late at night, but I didn’t really know what to say to him, whispering into the phone so as not to wake my parents. Finally he invited me over one evening. I walked the three blocks over to the other side of Queen and Aberdeen. The first kiss in that private space was intoxicating. Just like I had imagined it and then some. He pushed me up against the washing machine, ratcheting our desire up in a way I had never experienced before. I fumbled with my hands, not knowing quite what to do, but finding purchase on his clothing, holding tight, not brave enough to try the buttons just yet. Eventually we made it to his bed, he turned on the television but turned down the volume, and we spent another hour making out. His fingers found other spaces to explore, but still I was too new at all this, too unaware, too reliant on someone who didn’t want to show me the map. When I got home later, I marvelled in front of the mirror at my bruised lips and went to bed that night with fantasies of a beach wedding, the smell of his cologne still in my hair.

For months I saw Acuras everywhere and thought of him.

But it was a year later, in the Infiniti, where he wanted to take my virginity. I said no. I wanted a bed. I wanted a little bit of romance, thank you very much.

So he took me back to the new Cantor’s place, in the middle of the day, a low-rise apartment building on Herkimer near a pharmacy. Every time I pass it now I know it as the place. The apartment was bachelor-filthy. A large screen television and an XBOX dominated the living room where the new Cantor was sprawled out on a foldout couch, still sleeping off whatever happened the night before. I was told to keep quiet as he ushered me into the bedroom.

Quick. Perfunctory. With little fanfare. He slapped his belly afterwards as he pulled his shirt back on and lamented, “too many Coronas.”

He leaned in to kiss me one more time as I lay on the bed, shocked and dismayed at what just happened.

“Now you can tell all your friends that you slept with Benny,” he said. I did, and I didn’t.

He took me to the Maple Leaf Pancake House afterwards. I still don’t eat blueberry pancakes to this day. As I looked up over the plate I asked him naively, “Are we boyfriend and girlfriend now?”

He didn’t really answer the question, but he did drive me home. He went back to Toronto and he never spoke to me again.

I guess he won the bet.

Why did I drudge this up? It’s so irrelevant. No! It’s not. Because it’s coloured each relationship I’ve had since that time. Did he know what he would do when he made that bet? What was he thinking?

My fourteen year old nephew invited us all to see his school production of The Wizard of Oz last week. As I followed the cast down the yellow brick road, my mind turned to the age of the actors. The same age I was when an adult man decided that he needed to win a bet and take my virginity. In that moment, I was sickened and I still weep for the young girl that I was. Perhaps too naive and too enamoured with the idea of romance to realize what was happening. But I learned quickly enough and as I hear more and more #metoo stories that echo, mirror, and build on what I and countless other women have experienced at the hands of men who misuse their power, I have to wonder: are we ready to be good to each other again? I’d like that. It starts with sitting in the grief, seeing it from the other side, acknowledging it, and ultimately, hopefully, letting it go.

Here it is: I let it go.

Book Review: One Day We’ll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

One Day We'll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Khoul

One Day We’ll Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

Despite the title’s grimness, Scaachi Koul’s memoir is not as morose as one would assume. And that’s probably why the title is actually a clever visual trick. It cheekily tells you that Koul might seem like a typical apathetic Millennial writer, but she has real feelings and they’re deeply rooted in legacy and the places where we come from.

In her stories,  we learn about her Indian roots, from the lessons of her parents to the grueling process of a typical Indian wedding. I have to confess, I’m one of those lily-white idiots who’s casually articulated more than once that she’d love to go to an Indian wedding, having no idea how long the ceremony is (days) or how difficult it is for the bride (very).

I would categorize Koul’s writing as “hashtag life goals”. She’s just so good at turning a phrase. She’s funny and cavalier, but never annoying, which is a place many writers end up when they’re trying to be funny and cavalier. See Jian Ghomeshi’s “1982”. Or don’t. I couldn’t get past the first chapter.

Although Koul’s life experience is not the same as mine – she grew up in Calgary in an Indian family, while I grew up in Toronto and Hamilton in a Polish family, there are echoes of my own that makes it relatable. We both went to post-secondary in Toronto; her memories of the Dance Cave are mirror images of my own. And we are both the products of immigration, although every immigrant story is different.

One of the most poignant features of her book are the email exchanges with her father that bookend each chapter. It reminded me to look up my correspondence with my own father. Koul is lucky to still have her parents – and she worries about the day when she will no longer have them. As someone who has already experienced that tragedy (and I can honestly tell you that there is no experience that can hurt you as much as the death of a parent), it made me like Koul even more for including these imperfect exchanges with someone who’s influenced your life so much.

My father and I mostly emailed about our life updates and most, sadly, were written after he was diagnosed and in the process of fighting cancer. Before then we would often exchange a few sentences over the phone. I didn’t know how much I would come to wish more written exchanges with him until his memorial service when my sister read from her own emails with Tata.

This came from one of our few conversations. It was written before he was sick, when my parents were settling into their new life in Perth, Ontario. Tata was training to get his truck driver’s license (at the age of sixty!) It perfectly encapsulates my dad’s way of embellishing and building a phrase that so many people loved.

Here, in the woods, everything looks serene, I am in the middle of heavy truck combat training, will end and hopefully graduate on Sep. 8th. Yesterday I had an interview for lone ranger position in Scouts Canada camp on south side of Lake Christie. It went soooooo well, that today, I’ve got a phone call, with invitation for second interview. It may end with job offer, who knows?

For the record, he got the job. The Scout Camp was so good to my father, even after he was diagnosed shortly after taking the job. They supported him through his medical leave and my mother after his passing.

Both Koul and I admit that we owe a lot to our fathers. One day this will matter is the truth. Simple things like an email back and forth between you may not mean a lot now, but one day it may mean the world.

Book Review: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

born a crime trevor noahTrevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents’ indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle. –-penguinrandomhouse.com

I have to keep reminding myself that this memoir is written by someone the same age as me. Born in 1984, Trevor Noah’s only a year older than me. I’ve never read a memoir written by contemporary before. I guess I’d better get used to it because now is the time when these things start happening. We’re all old enough now to have a few stories under our belt.

Hell, I’ve filled the Punnery with enough stories now that I’m beginning to revisit them, picking through them to see what I can elaborate on, turn into bigger and better things. Much like this memoir. Many of the stories in Born a Crime started off as jokes in Trevor’s stand-up act, like recounting the tail of feeling like “a bag of weed” whenever his parents walked past police because his father would cross the street and his mother would drop his hand.

Trevor and I were listening to Montel Jordan at the same time together. I, too, wanted to wear a ankle-length leather duster like Neo from The Matrix. We were both set free by the Internet. He sold bootleg CDs. I learned how to build websites so I could write whatever, where ever, I wanted.

While he was running through the streets of Johannesburg, I was living in Toronto with my family, completely unaware of what life might be like in post-apartheid South Africa. I knew it existed, but had no idea what it was.

In 1998, when I was about twelve years old, Nelson Mandela visited Toronto. My class went to the Skydome to hear him speak. I don’t remember a single thing about that trip, other than I know I was there.

I didn’t know what the hell apartheid really was as twelve year old sitting in the nosebleed section of the Skydome, watching a golf cart inch through the crowds on the astroturf below. Much like the end of Communism it was messy and confusing and it left a vaccuum in its wake that created chaos. That’s what Trevor Noah lived in, while I lived in Canada. While I was in Canada, watching Nelson Mandela speak on a Jumbotron, my family in Poland was dealing with the economic fall-out of post-Communist life in Poland.

I’ve already mentioned this part of the book:

“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”

I often wonder what would have happened if my family stayed in Poland. My father’s love of language likely would have still been passed on to me and my sister and my curiousity for the world would have likely led me to move to England, like thousands of other Poles my generation. Brexit would have a bigger impact in my life. Instead I am here in Canada. Would I have received the same fishing poles in that life? Impossible to tell because that life doesn’t exist. And as someone quite recently told me, our souls learn things in the time that they are given to us. We can’t speculate on what could have been done differently, because it’s all been done as it should have been done. And I value the fishing poles I’ve already been given in my life.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about life in South Africa post-apartheid, in the nineties and early oughts.